Tricking the human brain into feeling the presence of a ghost using robots is what a group of researchers successfully accomplished from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, recently. The scientists were able to recreate in the laboratory a sensation of feeling a ghostly presence, which is what some folks with neurological disorders claim to experience.
While it is easy to understand why folks with these disorders have the ghostly sensations, it wasn’t easy to explain why people with perfectly normal brains experienced this phenomenon from time to time. If you’ve ever had the feeling of being watched, but no one was there, then you too have felt this sensation.
By recreating this experience the scientists are closer to knowing how the brain malfunctions and what brings these experiences on, according to NBC News on April 29. The reason that folks with perfectly normal brains experience a ghostly sensation is because their signals were getting mixed up and this is what this research set out to do, find out why and how that happens.
Using the inability of a person to tickle themselves as an example, the scientists explain that if your brain can predict a movement, such as one from your own hand, then the sensation will not be conjured up. Your brain predicts what your hand is going to do if you try to tickle yourself, so there is no way you can tickle yourself.
The researchers studied 12 subjects with neurological disorders who have reported feeling a secondary presence, a ghost sensation, because of their disorders. Using the MRIs of these patients the scientists were able to see the abnormalities in three regions of these subject’s brains, reports the Huntington Post today.
The abnormalities showed up in the areas of the brain that involve self-awareness, movement and sense of position in space. Together these three brain regions contribute to multi-sensory signal processing, which is important for the perception of one’s own body.
Another group of people without these neurological disorders were blindfolded and instructed to use handles that would manipulate robotic arms to touch their backs. When the person moved the handle they thought they were powering the robotic arm that touched their backs. The arms worked in real-time without delay at first. They knew what to expect as they moved the handles to get the arms to touch them in the back.
When the scientists delayed the response from the robotic arms for just a fraction of a second, on these blindfolded subjects, that ghostly presence sensation was felt by people who weren’t suffering from any neurological disorder. Scientists were able to recreate that sensation on people with normal brains.
Scientists were actually able to trick people into thinking there was a ghost in the room. When the robot arms weren’t poking them in the back, the robots were moved quite close to the subjects giving them a feeling of a presence near them, spooking some of the subjects.
According to The Learning Mind, “The robotic test proved to be very successful with creating sensory hallucinations in healthy test subjects, even to the point of frightening them to stop the tests immediately.” While it was really interesting to see how this worked, “it didn’t completely explain the phenomenon, but maybe these tests can even help us understand mental disorders and solve issues deep within the human mind that have stumped us for decades.”